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A well-defended territory is what some female hummingbirds find most attractive in a mate
Date:4/7/2010

When it comes to attracting a mate, flowers and sweets often do the trickeven for one of the world's smallest birdsthe purple throated carib, a hummingbird species native to the mountainous islands of the Eastern Caribbean. Scientists recently discovered that it is in the best interest of male purple-throated caribs to defend and maintain a territory with a high density of nectar-producing flowers. Why? Because it is the quality of this territoryrather than flashy plumage or elaborate courtship displaysthat attracts the most females.

John Kress, a botanist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and Ethan Temeles, an ornithologist and biology professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts, have spent several years researching purple throated caribs (Eulampis jugularis) in the wild on the island of Dominica. What they observed was unique among all bird species: successful male caribs maintained and defended territories with nectar supplies that were two to five times greater than their daily needs and also isolated part of their crop for the exclusive feeding rights of visiting females. The key to this female-only feeding area was the presence of heliconia flowers.

"This is the first time such behavior has ever been observed in a bird species," said Kress. "Not only is the male defending a huge territory from competing males, but he's also defending a big chunk of it exclusively for females who he is trying to attract as potential mates. He is farming the nectar for these dual purposes."

Male and female purple throated caribs are alike in plumage, but males are considerably larger and have longer wings than females. Females, however, have bills that are 20 percent longer and 30 percent more curved than the bills of the males, meaning that they are physically able to feed from flowers that males cannot. This is also known as "sexual resource partitioning" and for the purple throated carib it applies to two spec
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Contact: John Gibbons
gibbonsjp@si.edu
202-633-5187
Smithsonian
Source:Eurekalert  

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